Fox v. Lackawanna County et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 93 MOTION to Stay.Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 3/8/18. (dw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TAMMY FOX, et al.,
LACKAWANNA COUNTY, et al.,
Presently before me is the Motion to Stay Proceedings (Doc. 93) filed by
Correctional Defendants.1 For the reasons that follow, the motion to stay will be
denied without prejudice.
As set forth in detail in my opinion granting in part and denying in part
Defendants’ motions to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint, the instant action
involves allegations of sexual abuse of female inmates by corrections officers at the
Corrections Officer Charles Beatrice (“Beatrice”); Thomas Staff (“Staff”);
Corrections Officer Heather Wolff (“Wolff”); Corrections Officer William
Shandley (“Shandley”); Corrections Officer Cherelli (“Cherelli”); Corrections
Officer George McHale (“McHale”); Corrections Officer Catherine Novack
(“Novack”); Corrections Officer Christine Neveroski (“Neveroski”); Corrections
Officer Casey Calpin (“Calpin”); Corrections Officer Paula Bondy (“Bondy”);
Corrections Officer Mary Beth Coar (“Coar”); Corrections Officer Sergeant Kate
Fanning (“Fanning”); Corrections Officer Jean Pelucacci (“Pelucacci”);
Corrections Officer Rhonda Fiederer (“Fiederer”); Corrections Officer Captain
Robert Maguire (“Maguire”); Corrections Officer Shnipes (“Shnipes”);
Corrections Officer James Walsh (“Walsh”); Corrections Officer McPhillips
(“McPhillips”); Corrections Officer Leo Baum (“Baum”); Corrections Officer
Mark Johnson (“Johnson”); Corrections Officer Tammy Miller (“Miller”);
Corrections Officer Joseph Robert Slobodnek (“Slobodnek”); Warden Janine
Donate (“Donate”); Warden Tim Betti (“Betti”); Lieutenant Nancy Carroll
(“Carroll”); Deputy Warden David Langan (“Langan”); Warden Robert McMillan
(“McMillan”); and Warden Vincent Mooney (“Mooney”).
Lackawanna County Prison and the ensuing cover-up and concealment of same by
various officials of Lackawanna County. (See Doc. 84, generally). Plaintiffs claim
that they were raped, sexually assaulted, and harassed by corrections officers while
they were incarcerated in the Prison and thereafter when they were subject to court
supervision. (See id.). Yet, despite knowledge of this culture and the abuse female
inmates were subjected to, Plaintiffs allege that the County, its Commissioners, Prison
wardens, supervisory officials, and other employees did nothing and, to the contrary,
prevented this misconduct from coming to light. (See id.).
On December 19, 2017, Correctional Defendants filed the instant motion to
stay. (See Doc. 93, generally). In their supporting brief, Correctional Defendants
argue that this action should be stayed pending disposition of a criminal investigation
being conducted by the Office of the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania (“OAG”) related to allegations of sexual abuse at the Lackawanna
County Prison. (See Doc. 95, generally).
Plaintiffs Tammy Fox and Jamie Tompkins (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) oppose
the motion to stay. (See Doc. 101, generally). Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that
Correctional Defendants’ concerns regarding self-incrimination does not provide a
basis for a stay. (See id. at 2-6). This is so, Plaintiffs explain, because of the vast
amount of discovery that will need to be conducted in this case, which Plaintiffs
believe will take years. (See id. at 3). Further, Plaintiffs emphasize that of the thirtyeight (38) named Defendants in this case, only a handful are targets of the criminal
investigation by the OAG. (See id.). Thus, Plaintiffs maintain that depositions of the
majority of Defendants can proceed without issue, as well as the depositions of nonparty witnesses. (See id.). And, to the extent that an individual Defendant raises selfincrimination concerns, Plaintiffs’ counsel represents that he “is more than willing to
delay the depositions of any Defendants who have a reasonable expectation that they
will be criminal[ly] charged in order to protect their Fifth Amendment rights.” (Id. at
In their reply, Correctional Defendants note that on February 14, 2018, seven
(7) current or former employees of the Lackawanna County Correctional Facility were
arrested on various charges related to institutional sexual assault. (See Doc. 105, 3).
Four (4) of those individuals are Defendants in this case - Walsh, McHale, Johnson,
and Shnipes. (See id.). After the arrest, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General stated that
the “investigation is very much ongoing, very much ongoing.” (Id. at 4). Given these
developments, Correctional Defendants argue that a stay should be imposed so they
are not “required to choose between mounting an effective criminal defense at the
expense of fully participating in his or her own defense in the pending civil rights
action.” (Id. at 8).
“The District Court has broad discretion to stay proceedings as an incident to
its power to control its own docket.” Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706 (1997); see
United States v. Breyer, 41 F.3d 884, 893 (3d Cir. 1994). In exercising that discretion,
a district court is instructed to “weigh competing interests and maintain an even
balance.” Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936).
In determining whether to stay a civil case pending
resolution of a related criminal proceeding, courts consider
the following factors:
(1) the extent to which the issues in the civil and criminal
cases overlap; (2) the status of the criminal proceedings,
including whether any defendants have been indicted; (3) the
plaintiff's interests in expeditious civil proceedings weighed
against the prejudice to the plaintiff caused by the delay; (4)
the burden on the defendants; (5) the interests of the court;
and (6) the public interest.
Barker v. Kane, 149 F. Supp. 3d 521, 525-26 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (citing Shrey v. Kontz,
No. 10-1420, 2011 WL 94416, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 11, 2011)). The Constitution,
though, “does not ordinarily require a stay of civil proceedings pending the outcome
of criminal proceedings.” SEC v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 628 F.2d 1368, 1376 (D.C. Cir.
1980) (citing Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 98 S. Ct. 1551, 47 L. Ed. 2d 810
(1976); DeVita v. Sills, 422 F.2d 1172, 1181 (3d Cir. 1970). “[A] stay is an
extraordinary remedy and the party seeking the stay bears the burden of establishing
its necessity.” Soroush v. Ali, No. 09-3703, 2009 WL 3467897, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Oct.
28, 2009) (citing Landis, 299 U.S. at 255).
Correctional Defendants’ motion for a stay will be denied. With respect to the
first factor, “[t]he degree of overlap between the pending civil and criminal cases is
widely considered the most important threshold issue in determining whether or not
to impose a stay.” Barker, 149 F. Supp. 3d at 526. Here, there is a substantial overlap
between these proceedings as both the criminal and civil actions involve allegations
of sexual abuse of female inmates at the Lackawanna County Prison. And, as to the
second factor, four (4) Defendants in this case have been indicted. While these two
factors weigh in favor of a stay, the balance of the remaining factors weigh against
granting Correctional Defendants’ motion.
The third factor weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs. The claims at issue here
relate in part to actions that occurred many years ago. Staying this case indefinitely
and delaying discovery could prejudice Plaintiffs in their ability to advance this case.
Moreover, given the extensive amount of discovery that will be taken in this case and
noting that the vast majority of Defendants in this case have not been criminally
indicted, it is not necessary to issue a blanket stay of this case.
The fourth factor also does not weigh in favor of a stay. Correctional
Defendants’ claim that they will be required to decide between defending against the
criminal and civil cases if they proceed at the same time is unconvincing.
Significantly, Plaintiffs have expressly indicated a willingness to delay discovery from
any Defendant that has a reasonable expectation that they will be charged criminally.
Thus, the charged Correctional Defendants’ stated self-incrimination concerns are
The fifth and six factors also favor allowing this litigation to proceed. The
Court has an interest in resolving cases expeditiously and the public has an interest in
the substance of the claims of wrongdoing by Government officials advanced in this
In sum, while some Defendants in this action have been indicted, I find that the
relevant factors taken as a whole weigh in favor of allowing the matter to proceed at
this time. To the extent any disputes arise regarding Defendants’ Fifth Amendment
rights, those issues can be addressed as necessary.
For the above stated reasons, the motion to stay filed by Correctional
Defendants will be denied without prejudice.
An appropriate order follows.
March 8, 2018
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. Richard Caputo
United States District Judge
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